Apogee: 1987 human orchestra and online game publisher

Original author: Chris Plante
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In the late 1980s, in Texas, a young man of twenty and a little by the name of Scott Miller created a business model that changed the way people buy and sell digital products around the world. Miller himself called his masterpiece “Apogee model” - “apogee model”, but everyone else knows it today under the name “shareware”, or “shareware”. This model made digital online sales tremendously lucrative, and Miller himself a millionaire. The model and its author had to revolutionize the way the Internet is used - even before most of the world knew about its existence.

Full-time Nerds

imageIn his youth, Scott Miller was a bummer.

In high school in the early 1980s, he, an introverted teenager, escaped from the hot sun of Texas, hiding on the campus of a computer lab, spending all his time programming long text adventure quests. Here he met George Broussard - another teenager who at that time stood out only with his love for the constant wearing of shorts. As often happened at that time, the guys rallied together amicable admiration for the local Apple II computer.

After graduation, Miller and Broussard both went to work in the local slot machine hall, which was called the Twilight Zone. Since the work was dust-free, Miller was able not only to make time for college, but also got the freedom to improve in the latest video games. Miller and Broussard every day competed among themselves for the machines, trying to break each other's records in the tables of the best players.

Miller was expelled from the University of Dallas from his second year and allowed video games to sprout through his life as if the weed was growing in the garden. He practiced games all week, and on weekends, participated in local gaming tournaments, earning a modest extra income and gradually gaining a reputation among a small but friendly community of gaming enthusiasts. He programmed the rest of the time.

After Miller graduated from high school, his parents went to live back to Australia, where his father worked. And Scott, having remained in Texas and having lost the comfort of an empty childhood home, lived the life-dream of a young nerd.

The first gaming magazines

Scott Miller wanted to earn more. Not without Broussard's help, he wrote a guide on how to win in popular video games - as it later turned out, only to find out that the market was already full of similar gaming manuals, among which his work was simply lost. However, the publication of the book brought another unexpected result - Miller was entrusted with a weekly column in the Dallas Morning News newspaper. Over the next four years, a young video game enthusiast will write reviews for a popular local newspaper, occasionally doing part-time jobs for individual niche gaming magazines. His earnings continued to be modest - there was only enough money to reach the next payment.

Miller continued to program at night.

And now, in 1987, after several years of work, the ego finally awakened in professional criticism: he finally realized that he was able to make games that would be no worse than those about which he wrote every week. So began the career path of Miller as a game developer and self-publisher.

“I remember how Scott worked from his parents’ home, ”later recalled his colleague Terry Nagi. “He was seriously proud that he was able to get a 16.5K modem that allowed him to communicate with game designers from around the world.”

Free swimming

At first, Miller hoped that he could sell his games in a more traditional way: sign a contract with a publisher who could record games on media, distribute them and promote them in retail.

Most publishers ignored Miller's suggestion; those who nevertheless responded flatly refused to sign a contract with an amateur designer. After all, he was just an ordinary guy with no college degree or experience in the gaming industry, and was known as a critic, not a programmer. Even at the dawn of the advent of game design in the 1980s, there was already a line between those who made games and those who wrote about them.

But what was even worse - Miller made ASCII games that used letters, numbers and symbols instead of graphics - and this did not interest investors who were looking for a “new big hit”. Publishers wanted a large and experienced team of designers to work on them, who would work on something intriguing - something that would immediately grab the attention of those who regularly flipped through stacks of gaming magazines about PCs.

Miller was going to publish his own games on media by himself, but he knew that the cost of printing products would cost him a lot and would be unbearable - moreover, he lacked contacts even at the lowest level, in stores and other retail chains.

But Miller had another plan from which his colleagues tried to dissuade him to the last. The developer could allow anyone to download his games for free through electronic bulletin boards (BBS) and voluntarily make a donate.

At that time, this particular method of software distribution served as the definition of the shareware model - then it consisted in the fact that everyone could copy and distribute the game for free.

Miller relied on the shareware model and waited for the results.

He issued two text quests, Beyond the Titanic and Supernova . The games were warmly received by the BBS community, but donate proved his financial failure. (According to Miller, the total revenue from both games could not reach $ 10,000)

When finance came to an end, Miller left writing and got a full time job in tech support of a computer consulting company. At night and on weekends, he continued to program and make new useful contacts. At BBS, Miller met with a community of designers like him who dreamed of becoming professionals. As he managed to find out, none of those who adhered to the shareware model failed to earn any significant money.

“Absolutely everyone thought that releasing games online could not make money,” as Miller would say many years later.


imageMiller's next game was a technological leap compared to his past text adventures: it was Kingdom of Kroz , an ASCII adventure of 60 levels. Proud of his brainchild, Miller could not force himself to freely distribute Kroz . This time he chose a different strategy: his own.

Miller broke Kroz into three “collections” of levels, which he called episodes. The first episode could be downloaded through BBS for free. When the player finished passing this piece, a splash screen appeared with the return address of Miller's mail. If the player wanted to complete the passage of the quest Kroz, then he had no choice but to send his check to the creator.

The two remaining episodes, Caverns of Kroz and Dungeons of Kroz, could be purchased separately or all together (with a small discount). The purchase of episodes was also considered the registration of the product, so the player got the opportunity to contact the technical support of the game and gain access to special cheat codes.

Miller began to receive an average of $ 1,000 per week in checks.

So in one night, an amateur designer became a professional publisher; and since each publisher was supposed to have a name, Scott had to choose - but he didn't have to think long. Let Miller call his idea just “marketing magic” today, but in those days he preferred to call it “apogee model”.

Apogee The
highest point, the climax.

Model A distribution model in which the first part of the game is available for free - in order to encourage players to buy the remaining parts. (Used today everywhere - from the App Store to Ouya).

Mail was the worst possible way of accepting orders, but a freshly baked entrepreneur could not afford anything else then because he did not have a phone number for the company.

In June 1990, Miller released the new Kroz trilogy - and now he has already started earning about $ 2,000 a week. After making sure that the written checks were stably stored on his desk, Miller left his previous low-paid work in technical support and was exclusively engaged in game development.

“I would not say that then I was visited by some special enlightenment,” Miller says, “I just knew that the online release of the games would not work ... It seemed to me that the release of the advertising version was a sensible step. My expectations were not really very high. ”

Next episode

Today, Miller says that Broussard always followed on his heels. According to him, Broussard did not take gaming development seriously until he saw how much money Miller made. Without thinking twice, Broussard founded his company Micro F / X, whose motto was “Micro F / X Software, a leading developer of shareware games!”.

At the same time, Miller did not have enough time to be a game developer and publisher at the same time - even though he devoted all his days to these classes. So a year later, he invited Broussard to join Apogee Software Ltd. as a partner and co-owner, making him a Micro F / X trustee.

Miller at that time completed his first house and drove into it with his parents, who then returned from Australia. Early Apogee looked just like this: two adult men discussed the great future of their company, the entire industry and the world, and when they were not at home, Miller's mother answered the players' calls instead of technical support.

In 1991, Miller and Broussard rented an office on Broadway Blvd. in garland in texas. Their first office was a small but sufficient space for two game designers and several employees who executed orders - at least there was enough space for the first time.

But Apogee grew at a staggering rate. Soon, the company acquired an automatic number, 1-800-Apogee1, and ten employees who served users and fulfilled orders.

During the first years of the company’s existence, the office’s work was more like a factory - because most of the game development itself took place somewhere else in the whole country, and games got to Garland via a modem and through BBS, which led to Miller’s initial success.

In the meantime, as the office grew, Miller realized that despite the fact that the game development allowed him to live quite well, he could make good money on the field of publishing other people's games. Of course, he still did not have a traditional way of publishing games on media, but he had the Internet, a model of apogee, and the determination of a sales agent who was ready to knock on every door.

To search for talent, an ambitious publisher took advantage of what was at hand: a stack of old gaming magazines. Among the authors of editorial articles and reviews, Miller unearthed several talented developers who were supposed to start creating games for Apogee. Among them was Todd Replogl, who would later give Apogee a whole million dollar franchise that everyone still remembers - it's Duke Nukem .

Ahead of Miller was waiting for a real blue bird - a programmer named John Romero.

Following the Apogee covenants ...
In the sequel - about John Romer, John Carmack, Commander Keen , Wolfstein and 3D Realms.
Continued tomorrow. Tomorrow has come - that’s it .

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